It might be as monumental as Han Solo doing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, but Mattoon volleyball faces three crucial games over the next two weeks, starting tonight at Charleston, that will decide their fate in the Apollo Conference.
The good news for the Green Wave, fourth in the Apollo, is that they host all three teams – Mahomet-Seymour and Lincoln who rank 1 and 2 in less than a week’s time, then Taylorvile who are ranked third, two weeks later. They’re 3-0 at home.
“It’s massive,” Mattoon coach Kayla Quick said. “What I’ve learned out about this team is that they do perform better when they have their massive support system there cheering for them. I’m excited for this week and these next couple of games because I do think that being at home gives us a little bit of an edge. I think that this group of girls has potential to walk away with some wins against some of those tougher teams we’ve faced so far.”
Quick said her team needs to be ready defensively since they’ll be playing teams with taller players, such as Mahomet-Seymour’s Chloe Pruitt (5-10) an Taylorville’s Mazie Fleming (6-3). Mattoon features front-line players (Nevaeh Laster, 5-11) and Sarah Rankin (5-10), Kuhn is 5-9 and Evans 5-8.
“Because we’re a smaller team, we can’t necessarily rely on our block,” she said. “Our focus moving forward is our defensive positioning and making sure we’re in the right spot, making sure we’re getting our feet set and on our toes and not on our heels. We’re anticipating balls and not relying on our blockers at the net to shut down every hit that comes across. As much as I would like that to happen, that’s just not practical for our group that’s not super vertically-gifted.”
Quick said the team needs to be ready defensively.
“I preach to my girls that we have to make sure we’re getting there and at least putting up our hands,” she said. “Yes, we do work on the blocking part of the game as much as other pieces. Defensive positioning is going to be huge. If we can get into our spots and anticipate those balls, we’re going to be fine as long as we’re in the right positions.”
Quick said the team is going to have to learn how to adjust quicker than the opposing hitters.
“I think part of our game is going to have to learn how to adjust to some of those hitters that are really good at working around our defense,” she said. “If we’re setting up deep down one line and taking away the short shot on the other side of the court and it’s not working, then we’re going to have to adjust the way we set up our defense to take away those power hits.”
Quick thinks because of Mahomet-Seymour’s consistent effectiveness the last few years, the girls may have not brought their A-game in the first matchup that saw the Bulldogs win in two sets 25-18, 25-17.
“As far as Mahomet goes, I think there’s a little bit of hesitation with my girls because they’ve been as solid as a competitor for us for a really, really long time,” she said. “I think they went into that away game, ‘on edge’ for lack of a better term. For the most part, they hung in there. I wasn’t disappointed with the way they played. I am looking forward to having them in our home gym because it brings a little bit more energy for my girls.”
The Lincoln game may have been an anomaly due to the 2-hour bus ride. The Railsplitters took that one, 25-16, 26-24. The Green Wave will face Peyton Sasse and Kloe Froebe who have 125 and 90 kills, for the season respectively.
“For Lincoln, I’m not sure if it was the bus ride or just their great hitters we weren’t prepared for,” Quick said. “Now that we know what we’re getting ourselves into, we have some time to work on those harder defensive balls and get a win at home.”
Led by OH Elle Richards with 168 kills on the season, Taylorville won the first matchup as well, 13-25, 25-21, 17-25.
“As far as Taylorville, set 1 wasn’t indicative of our abilities. We came back in set 2 and did a really great job. Set 3, I think, we got tired or nervous. I think they had a little more to give me to get closer and fight harder.”
Quick notes that the team just needs to relax and breathe.
“Well, it’s a lot of just that,” she said. I will pull them into the huddle and they expect me to tell them everything they’re doing wrong. This group of girls is so conscious of what they’re doing and their approach. They ask all the time ‘Coach, what am I doing? What’s wrong?’ and sometimes we have to take a step back from that in the huddle and say ‘Girls, you’re thinking about it too much.’ Making them slow down in the huddle is a great time to do that.”
“My approach with the girls to handle stress is take more of a calm deep breath and utilize some of our
coping skills to get through this moment.”
Mattoon will rely on 5-foot-6 senior Sophia Rhine from the service line, where she brings a 94.3 serve percentage which will be crucial.
“That’s fantastic,” Quick said. “That means she’s reliable. She’s consistent. She misses a serve, sure. For the most part, her serves are in the court and theyre low to the net. And they move a lot. She has a great float to her ball making it difficult for teams to receive her ball because it moves in the air. You never really anticipate where it’s going. She’s very consistent and is one of my best servers that I tend rely on.”
Mattoon’s senior OH Jess Evans (86 kills), RS Laster (74 kills), and senior OH Lily Ghere (66 kills) are going to be relied on for offense.
“I look to Jess quite a bit,” Quick said. “She’s one of my most efficient and effective hitters in the front row. Lily is awfully scrappy. I tend to get really excited when she’s on the court for me.”
I’m really eager about Nevaeh on the right side and my two middles. (Junior) Ashlynne (Kuhn), she has a great power swing she does really well with if she can get her timing right. (Senior) Sarah (Rankin) my other middle, does a really great job of getting the ball around and hitting different corners of the court. If we can get all those pieces working together at the same time, then we’ll be great.”
A big key to their success in this stretch will be how well the team communicates on the court.
“We do a lot of communication drills in practice,” Quick said. “Part of it is being at our home gym. They’ll crank that up on their own. The other piece is a continual reminder. ‘Girls I understand that you might be talking, but if I can’t hear you talking, chances are in the midst of a play, other players can’t hear you even if you’re whispering or in a normal talking voice. We have to be loud’.”
Quick said her rule of thumb is that if she can’t hear them talking on the court, then they need to be louder.
“We keep preaching it in practice. They’re doing it, it’s just not as loud as it needs to be.”
Quick said the most important aspect to maximize their chances of defeating these three teams is for the girls to mesh together and work as a unit.
“The biggest focus for us is that all of us come to the floor with a different set of skills and accepting each others’ strengths and supporting each other’s area of weaknesses,” she said noting she’s not fond of using the term ‘weaknesses.’
“Its huge for us – and making sure we come out playing as a team. We’re not perfect, the girl next to you isn’t perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. That’s big for this group of girls, especially. As long as we can maximize our strengths and continually seek out improvement in areas of weakness, we’ll be just fine.”
Tuesday- Charleston (Away)*
Thursday – Mahomet-Seymour (Home)*
10/4 – Lincoln (Home)*
10/6 – Mt. Zion (Away)*
10/11 – Taylorville (Home)*
10/13 – Rantoul (Home)
10/18 -Effingham (Home)*
10/20 – Sacred Heart Griffin(Away)
*Apollo Conference matchups